I like to believe that my parents raised me to be pretty responsible with my money. I’ve always been careful about spending and big on saving – when I was ten I decided to open my own savings account to make sure I wouldn’t spend too much. However, ten year-olds have way less monetary responsibilities than adults do, and I started to notice a fairly big problem through my junior and senior years of college: I have no idea what I spend.
While the habits that I learned when I was younger still stand – I’m careful about making big purchases, I try to avoid buying things that are unnecessary, and I have a savings account intended for use in college that I haven’t even touched – I have not been doing a good job at tracking my smaller purchases, and those add up.
So, to solve this problem, I decided to develop an budgeting tool to help me figure out how much I’m spending and on what, and then, if necessary, reduce my spending in areas where I might be a bit reckless. Enter Excel.
The most important thing to note here is that I am big on color-coding and visual presentation, so this is not your typical black and white (and maybe red) budget sheet. Oh no. This one is color-coded and beautiful. Here’s what I mean:
Unfortunately that picture’s a bit blurry because I had to make it really small to fit on my screen for a screenshot, but you can get the basic point. What I did there was separate all of my cash flow into categories – the green is for income, the blue is for money that will automatically go into savings, the red is for fixed costs that I consider necessary (like rent), the orange is for variable costs that I consider necessary (like electricity), and the yellow is for variable costs that can be reduced or eliminated (like shopping). The purple at the bottom calculates totals.
In addition to that, I added a table for each type of cost that may involve more than one purchase – groceries, for example. So all I have to do is enter when I bought groceries and the amount I spent into this table, and then the spreadsheet will automatically calculate my total amount spent on groceries for the month. Those tables look like this:
I chose five for each because it seemed like a good number, but I could easily add more columns to the table if necessary.
The workbook has a sheet for each month, and then also one sheet at the end that will automatically calculate totals for the year. This last sheet also shows monthly totals for all of the orange and yellow costs, as well as total spending by month and total put into my savings account by month (which are purple).
I decided to put savings in purple at the end like that because I don’t currently have a good enough understanding of either my income or my spending to determine how much to save. Although I do have automatic savings included in the blue section at the top, this purple savings will be based on how much money I have left at the end of the month and how much is in my checking account. Seeing the table of how much I put in each month at the end of the year should help me figure out a good average amount to plan on.
Anyway, this spreadsheet is obviously personalized to me and my spending (there’s a category for my cats), but it would be pretty easily modifiable for anyone looking to use it. As such, I am including a link in case anyone has an interest in downloading it here. There’s a fair amount of math involved, so if you don’t know much about Excel the easiest way to modify would be to just rename the categories I already have. If you know what you’re doing, feel free to add and delete columns and rows however you’d like and adapt my equations.
I would eventually like to add a macro that will automatically update all the sheets if you only change January, but my mac version of Excel doesn’t support macros so that feature will probably not be added anytime soon. The best way to do it is change January and just copy and paste that whole sheet into the other months, then manually change the yearly totals.
Here’s to responsible spending!